Aspen electeds shoot down pay raises

Aspen City Hall.
Aspen Times file photo

The idea of giving Aspen’s elected officials a pay increase was shot down Monday when a majority of City Council members voted to kick the can to their successors to decide if future political leaders should earn a living wage.

Council members and the mayor have not seen a pay raise for 18 years, which is why an increase of $200 per month was on the table.

Council members currently make an annual salary of $20,700 and the mayor $27,900, plus health insurance benefits.

The five members currently serving on council are either self-employed or retired and live in free-market housing each valued at between $500,000 and $5 million. Collectively, their residential properties are valued at more than $13.5 million.

“I think it’s a little financially hubristic for all of us and our situations to stand up here and not try to tackle this on a level of substance,” said Councilman Adam Frisch, adding that serving in public office is a honor but that only goes so far; it doesn’t pay the rent, mortgage or a ski pass.

Frisch, whose second and final four-year term is drawing to a close, brought the pay increase forward to his colleagues.

He argued that council salaries should be increased to roughly $30,000 and the mayor’s salary to around $40,000 — to adjust for inflation since 2001.

Frisch said compensation should continue to be adjusted and indexed to reflect inflation. Adjusting the pay rate for elected officials would draw a wider variety of candidates who, if elected, wouldn’t have to rely on a full-time job and try to fulfill what is at least a 20-hour-a-week job.

A more diverse set of candidates would give better representation on council, specifically working-class citizens who have children in the school system or live in deed-restricted housing, Frisch noted.

Prior to Monday’s meeting, City Attorney Jim True suggested a more modest pay increase at the direction of Mayor Steve Skadron.

At first reading on a proposed ordinance increasing pay by $200 a month, council voted 3-1 on a motion made by Councilman Ward Hauenstein to table the proposal.

He said $200 per month doesn’t do justice to the position, adding that it’s inappropriate for the current council to decide how much future ones should make, citing the lame-duck session underway until newly electeds take office in June.

“I fully support a raise in pay. … The amount of time put into this position warrants more pay,” Hauenstein said. “It’s a losing proposition monetarily to serve on City Council for all of the stress and everything else associated with it. I would support something more in line with the cost of living increase … (but) I do not feel it is proper for us at this point to make a decision. I want a more robust discussion on this.”

Hauenstein was able to get support from Skadron and Councilwoman Ann Mullins to kill the ordinance. Councilman Bert Myrin was absent.

“It is an important enough discussion to have a full council seated and have a robust conversation to move forward with any kind of salary adjustment,” Mullins said. “I think a decision tonight is premature.”

Frisch had hoped for further consideration among his colleagues and dialogue with the public before the second reading of the ordinance, which would have been during a special meeting May 6.

The bump in pay would’ve benefited incoming council members Skippy Mesirow and Rachel Richards, along with mayor-elect Torre; they will be sworn in on June 10.

Before salaries were raised 18 years ago, council members earned $14,400 and the mayor $20,700. It was the first pay raise Aspen’s public officeholders had received since 1996.

By comparison, Pitkin County commissioners receive $84,665 a year, which is established by the state Legislature.

When comparing salaries of elected officials in other ski resort towns, Aspen lands in the middle. The most a mayor or a council member makes in the region is in Park City, Utah, where the position commands $44,477 and $22,975 a year, respectively.

In Colorado ski towns, the next closest salary comparison to Aspen is Snowmass Village where the mayor makes $1,700 a month and council $1,200. Those salaries also include a $500 monthly stipend to be used for health insurance. The Snowmass Town Council voted “yes” on a pay raise in May 2018.

Aspen’s mayor currently makes $2,325 a month and council $1,700.


Professional dancers return to Aspen to perform in ‘The Nutcracker’

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